Tag Archives: design

Handle with care: Why commercial art can consume its creators

Art is more than paint on a canvas, more than clutching a microphone or strumming a guitar. When you put a brush to canvas, create a line on the computer or stitch together pieces of fabric for a living you belong to an emotional fraternity that stands for something far greater. You are, as Pablo Picasso once said “a political being, constantly aware of the heart breaking, passionate, or delightful things that happen in the world, shaping himself completely in their image”. By electing to do so you make yourself available in an emotional way that most careers do not.

The professional world is built for those with thick skin and a short memory. Want to succeed in it? Climb over everyone else (and their differing opinions) until you’re the top gun. People do this every day with varying degrees of success. But art appeals to a much different collective. Art appeals to the unstable creatures who choose to walk or fly to the beat of their own drum. As artists, we create because what is currently available does not suit our physical and mental needs. We spend our entire lives searching for things that do not exist and in the process we continually tinker with existing ideas; altering the materials we’ve been blessed with in an effort to allow the rest of the world to see life through our eyes. In short an artist is a scientist with a paintbrush or mouse in his or her hand.

The problem with this is that exploring the unexplored can often lead artists down an all to familiar path. Famous Argentinian artist Alberto Greco went as far as to “creatively” ending his life by overdosing on barbituates . He described the entire process in a letter until his final breath (if you want to learn more and can read spanish checkout this link). Ray Johnson, a popular collage artist and pioneer of the Fluxus art movement committed “rayocide” by “artisticly” jumping off the Sag Harbor bridge in New York and backstroked into the sunset. His body was later found washed up on a nearby beach. There are numerous stories but the epidemic extends across the entire artistic spectrum. Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin for example, blended rock and jazz and psychedelics only to inevitably be consumed by the very same ingredients that fueled that rise to stardom.

Being consumed by the craft is not the only danger of being an artist. For many art is therapy. When that therapy is compromised, the results can often be catastrophic. At a young age, I picked up a pen and began scribbling images on sheets of paper. Not really understanding what I was doing, but finding that doing this put my mind at ease. As I got older and more comfortable in my skin, my subject matter turned from toy trucks and animals to more emotional expressive pieces that represented who I was and/or how I felt at the time. Art served as both a tool to sooth as well as a way I could understand and wrap my mind around things that I otherwise had difficulty comprehending in verbal or written form.

Every artist can point to reasons why they create. As an artist, one of the first things we are taught is that the number one rule of art is to break the rules. Art empowers those who create it which allows us to comfortably operate in our own worlds without having restraints. This empowerment gives us power to cope with everything from shyness to mental health disorders and everything in between. As the stakes rise and artists enter into the commercial industry a demand to consistently produce for the masses that previously did not exist is born. This demand reintroduces many of the same complications to our lives that we previously utilized art to conquer. These challenges, like any other, can often be overcome but as the scale of career success increases, so too do the negative effects. Curt Cobain began his musical career writing about small things like dis-functional love, relationships, partying and getting high. By the time his life came to an abrupt end at 26, he had penned songs such as “Sappy” and “Rape Me” which chronicle Cobain’s disdain toward the record industry and himself. Cobain, like many artists, had a difficult time with fame as he became more successful.

The world of art is about overcoming challenges and not dwelling on our setbacks. It is a career field that if handled with care can serve as an extension of life that may not feel like work at all. Famous artists should not serve as a deterrent, but as cautionary tales to study and learn from. Art is a labor of love, if not a labor at all and isn’t a career that we chose but a career that chooses us. Hopefully by studying famous artists of the past and present we can better understand our own career and lives in general, after all that’s the point isn’t it?


Beer we go again: Seasonal themed beers hit the shelves

The window for barbecues and pool parties is rapidly closing and we’re tasked with putting out the flame of a summer that wasn’t. As the season’s most avid fan, but always the optimist, I’ve decided to focus on positive and get an early jump on the new seasonal arrival of one of my favorite products—craft beer! And I’m not just talking any beer, no sir, this week I’ve got pumpkin flavored beer between the ears. The number of microbreweries decorating store shelves is higher than it’s ever been before and I think it only fitting that we examine some of the new products and designs by divvying up some seasonal love.

Armed with an IPhone and a $20 bill, I headed down the street to the local Binny’s” to see what was new in the “seasonal” section. I decided to snap a few pictures of some of my favorite box art and bottle designs and share them with everyone. With the names getting catchier and the designs more elaborate, there’s definitely plenty to enjoy this time around.

Here are a few of my favorites:

   Jaw-Jacker  Pumpkin Smasher  Pumpkin Chai

Halloween is one of my favorite times of the year for numerous reasons. Why do I love it so much you ask? I love it because it gives everyone the green light to get weird! And all the craft beer boom has done is force these companies to make more and more of a creative effort to capitalize on the weirdness. So who get’s the gold you ask? It’s definitely the folks who’ve created this. Simply labeled “Pumpkin Chai” this wicked witches brew is concocted by the folks at the Saugatuck Brewing Company, which just as it sounds is located somewhere in Michigan. I’m a bit torn on this one for two reasons; A) I do not like the taste of Chai tea but I do like pumpkin beer and B) it’s hard for me to justify spending $10.49 on something I already half find un-enjoyable. That said, the art on the boxes and bottles is pretty sick so I may have to just bite the bullet and try it.

Deciding on my favorite box art in this young season isn’t easy. There’s this this this this and that but my front runner so far is Jinx by Magic Hat (pictured on the header). I’m a sucker for busy detailed art that works and this definitely works for me. Speaking of busy art that works, it’s not Pumpkin themed, but this may be one of my all time season favorites. It’s Left Hand’s Oktoberfeast design. Left Hand has been one of my favorite breweries for some time now and I couldn’t help but complement there latest effort The beer is a lager and not only does it look good, it tastes pretty damn good too.

Speaking of taste, just like the designs on the outside the flavors are all over the place on the inside. For me the raining champion is Pumpkin Smasher by Big Muddy. It features a great box design, which features a sasquatch and it’s brewed in Southern Illinois … need I say more? I’ve selected several challengers so far to try and dethrone the beast but none accepted the challenge. Here’s a rundown of how I feel about each of them:

Ichabod by New Holland

A spicy slice of pumpkin pie in a glass, that’s what this stuff is. The taste was a bit more enjoyable because this was the first sip of pumpkin beer since the calendar flipped but stuff packs almost a little too much spice.

Overall Grade C+

Pumpkin Head by Shipyard

A worthy competitor to Pumpkin Smasher, the box features a super hero-esque version of Ichabod Crain so I couldn’t resist picking this one up. The beer packed plenty of punch in the spice department just like Ichabod but the real payoff is how smooth it goes down.

Overall Grade B 

Out of Your Gourd by RedHook

I’d have to be out of my gourd to try ”Out of Your Gourd” Pumpkin porter from Red Hook again. This stuff is horrible. It tasted like I was drinking left over coffee grounds. It was however a fantastic testament to what a catchy tagline can do to sell beer and the stubby Red Stripe like bottles offer an additional splash in the curiosity department. At 5.8% alcohol by volume, if you can stand the taste these offer the quickest path of the bunch to a good buzz. That said, it’s nearly a complete failure.

Overall Grade D-

Oktoberfest Märzen Lager by Lefthand

Looking at the box design, I thought to myself, “There’s no way the taste could measure up”…but I was wrong. This lager is delicious in every way. Don’t take my word for it, just try it yourself

Overall Grade B+

So there you have it Pumpkin Heads, a rundown of a craft beer world, Halloween style. These are just a few of the samplings of what’s out there this season and I’m sure these won’t be the last samples I taste. I also stumbled upon this great website I found while researching for this article which you can find here. Enjoy the site and if you have any thoughts on some good beers message me and lets communicate.

Anacondas and spiders and astronauts, oh my! Dissecting the creative genius that was the 2014 MTV VMAs

Ah, the MTV movie awards…I don’t usually feel compelled to right about celebrity get-togethers or celebrities at all for that matter but Sunday’s production was really something to behold. At its finest point, the show featured some truly gorgeous set work, clever costume design, fantastic stage lighting and mind-blowingly creative performances. At its lowest, the show’s over-sexualizing and objectification of women threatened to send the creative production off its axis. And not to mention moments like Beyoncé’s performance of “Partition” just felt awkward. I understand that art and sexuality often find themselves in the same bed but to blatantly objectify women and then post on the stage in rolling neon lights “We’re not objectifying women” left me scratching my head. I know it’s MTV but come on guys you’re better than that. Everything said, the over-the-top blend of celebrity hoopla and brilliant creative work definitely answered the call of “Entertain the People” which, for some reason made me feel a little better about the whole thing.

The awards themselves were equally bizarre; and in this case, I’m totally okay with it. MTV once again made the otherwise boring task of handing out awards to musicians extremely exciting. Did they piss a few people off in the process? Probably, but like I’ve always said, the number one rule of good art is it should evoke a strong emotional response and the over the top. Whether it was Miley Cyrus having runaway Jesse Helt accepting her award while she sobbed next to the stage or Beyoncé’s onstage family reunion, the 2014 edition of MTV’s award acceptances were definitely press worthy.

Switching gears, let’s focus on what really worked creatively. The most obvious was the opening intro, which blended performance art, body painting and an opening camera pan through Nikki Minaj’s neon jungle. The performance was built around her new single “Anaconda” and was a fitting prelude to what would be a night filled with shock and awe.

After Minaj exited the stage, it was on to Ariana Grande’s cast of characters that looked as if they’d been raiding David Bowie’s closet. It appears someone decided to dust off the vinyl used to create those hokie visors from the 1990’s and turn them into what you see here…very cool. 5 Seconds of summer then followed with a much more conventional approach proving that simple and creative almost always gets the job done. The set featured shipping pallets, Urban Outfitters-style, catastrophically strewn all over the stage which were heated with warm yellow/orange floodlights. This accented both the song and the youth of the band exceptionally well.

Then came the rolling crescendo of sexuality. First Nikki Minaj’s dress decided to fall apart, which rendered her mostly immobile, then Jesse Jane paraded out in a costume that looked as if it had already malfunctioned before she put it on. Her range of motion was so severely crippled her only option was to pace back and forth across the stage. The dress probably worked a lot better on paper than it did as a functional piece of clothing and other than shock value, this performance really didn’t provide much on the artistic side of things.

Next up was my absolute favorite performance of the evening, Iggy Azalea and Rita Ora’s duet “Black Widow”. If you want to see what flawless execution of the creative process looks like in motion, watch this video. This one had it all; imaginative costumes, beautiful lighting, and most importantly, it let the performance drive the production. I’ve never particularly been a fan of Miss Azalea but after watching the arachnophobic onslaught of spoken words she and her equally talented counterpart Rita Ora unleashed upon the crowd, I was truly left in awe. I’ve never seen a women or anyone for that matter, speak as fast as Iggy and Rita and for that, I give these women serious kudos. After we give the kudos out, can we also maybe check Rita’s driver’s license because I’m pretty sure she’s Rhianna.

As I mentioned this was the high watermark of the awards, so from this point on my interested waned a bit. As I mentioned Miley Cyrus sent Jesse Helm, a runaway to accept her award for best video. I’m not a Miley basher by any means and I can always appreciate a celebrity who invests their time and money into helping the underprivileged, but the whole thing kind of felt an attempt to hijack the show. I guess that’s just Miley being Miley and really shouldn’t have been surprised.

The final performance of the night belonged to the one and only Beyonce and I must say I was disappointed. I know diehard fans will hail this as amazing but for me it just seemed like a mash-up that didn’t really fit together cohesively. The performance had its moments but in the end, it seemed way overproduced. I also didn’t believe dragging the entire family onstage in front of millions of viewers; just to prove she’ll be together with Jay-Z a few more months was at all necessary. I like lights, I like lasers, and everything else they threw at us viewers but unlike the “Black Widow” performance, it felt forced.

Last but not least, you can’t mention the MTV music awards without mentioning the iconic “Moonman” awards that the company hands out. It’s been a few decades now since the first chrome astronaut (created by the now defunct Manhattan Design) was walked across the stage. This year was no exception but this time around the design got a funky new facelift by Brooklyn-based artist KAWS. Purists probably won’t like this design and even I’ll admit I’ll miss the silver plated Buzz Aldred, but the KAWS “Moonman” is a much more accurate representation of the quirky personality of the MTV network. You can check out more on KAWS and the new “Moonman” here to get the full scoop.

Anyway, hopefully you enjoyed the awards as much as I did. MTV should be commended for a job well done. The only said part is we have to wait another 365 days to see what they’ll do again next year. Whatever it is, we know it’ll get us talking.

Forget all the bells and whistles, just be human

Throughout the years, I’ve received countless pieces of advice from people from all walks of life. I’ve been educated by average Joes, preached to by self proclaimed innovators, and absorbed bits of wisdom from a scattered group of individuals who fell somewhere in between. All that said, I’ve always found the best advice comes from accidental mystics.

My father once told me “You can be anything you want; if you want to be a shoemaker, be a shoemaker… just make sure you’re the best damn shoemaker that ever lived and you’ll be all right”. At the time I just laughed. 

A close childhood friend once told me “If you want someone to like you, make sure you talk to them and more importantly make sure you talk to them—about them”. After hearing this, I looked at him quizzically and tried to understand why?

I once asked a former co-worker how she appeared to know everything about everything? Her response “I don’t, I just tell people I can do anything they ask me and then I just figure it out along the way.”

What do all these seemingly unrelated education bits share in common? They were all honest, genuine and most important, they were statements that came from the heart.

Although all these individuals have profoundly inspired me as a designer in some way, the most genius piece of creative advice I’ve ever received didn’t come from a person I know…It came from a group of people I’ve never met nor probably will ever meet. The culprit: FCB, the folks responsible for the awesome ad campaign you can watch below.


So what is this human element anyways?

The human element comes in all shapes and sizes. Whether it empowers you to make a change, causes you to tick like a time bomb, or makes you want to lock yourself in a room and have a good cry, if done correctly – the chances are the ad’s creators have successfully incorporated at least one of these key components.

1) The “human element” allows us to pause life and recalibrate our social compass.

Let’s face it, as we grow older, no matter how carefree and young at heart we are, as we age, we become hardened. While a little bit is absolutely necessary for day-to-day survival, the problem is sometimes we forget to stop and enjoy life’s simple joys.

A great example of this is demonstrated in this McDonald’s “Dia Del Niño” ad in which adult customers where made to feel like kids again…the result was awesome, check it out.

2) It delivers a simple message that is easily transmittable from culture to culture.

Living in America, we tend to take a lot of things for granted. We forget how in some areas of the world, simply stepping into a neighboring country can be a life-threatening experience. I know I am constantly beating the Coca-Cola drum, but their ads reach people the way few others do. This ad, from Leo Burnett, demonstrates that while ads can’t bring us world peace, they can certainly help individuals find common ground and understanding through visual communication.

3) It makes you think about the ad…long after it’s gone

A good ad that connects with its viewers leaves a lasting impression

Think of how many ads you see in one day? Need a little help? While the number is often debated, the consensus opinion is as consumers, we view between 1500-3000 ads per day. All the more reason an ad needs to stand out. A truly great ad needs to leave its viewers with a message to carry back to other consumers.

So what does all this mean for an advertiser? It means a hell of a lot of pressure, that’s what. But fear not, with the help of the “human element”, you can create an ad that is simply priceless.

American’s aren’t drinking as much pop and Coca-Cola’s taking it personal

By now everyone has seen Coca-Cola’s latest ad campaign or, like a lot of people I know, own their own personalized bottle. The success isn’t by accident, as Coca Cola is no stranger to producing the stuff of legend. Last year, with the help of the team at Leo Burnett and the World Wildlife Fund, Coke turned its traditionally red cans white to save the polar bears. The white cans then turned to green-roughly 2 million dollars of it, to be exact. Their latest attempt at advertising gold hits a bit closer to home, as they attempt to reverse the slide of soda consumption by asking customers to come back and drink more Coke…literally by name. The initial roll out has proven effective, but it’s how they’re doing it that’s truly something to behold? Let’s examine:

We are currently living in an era where physical fitness and exercise has become a staple of American culture. You could even go as far as to say health and nutrition are enjoying a bit of a renaissance, need proof?

2013 was somewhat of a milestone for H2O as it marked the first time in over a decade, in which Americans consumed more water (58 gallons per year), than the 44 gallons per year average of the popular sugar stacked beverage. Realizing the sharp decline in soda drinking, Coca-Cola along with Weiden and Kennedy (who handles Coca-Cola’s Coke and Diet coke product lines) enlisted the aid of what you will commonly refer to as the human element. The result? Personalized bottles for everyone…well almost everyone. If you aren’t lucky enough to have a fairly common name, you’ll have to settle for the “family” bottle.

But why is it so successful?

1) The “Name Game”

Coca-Cola is a smart company that knows who its existing and potential customers are, so what have they done? They’ve reached out to us…by name, which resonates on a stronger emotional level. Think about the way you feel when someone calls you by name. What happens? You feel good, you feel important and a sense of trust is created without you even noticing. Why? Because it connects with you on a level, in a way something like a simple “Hello” or “hey you” cannot. By doing so, Coca-Cola is speaking directly to us. The result? We’re eating it up (or drinking it up) to be more accurate.

2) It adds a bit of excitement to an otherwise trivial task of selecting something to drink.

This one’s pretty self-explanatory. If you haven’t already been to a store that features the new bottles, head to a local grocery or convenience store and try to resist the temptation of looking for your name at a display–It’s hard, trust me.

3) It encourages the lost art of sharing.

Long before the word sharing was relegated strictly to your Facebook newsfeed, people actually did physically share things and enjoy a personal connection when doing so. Coca-Cola has revitalized this idea and it’s working.

4) It’s making people want to buy Coca-Cola that normally wouldn’t

Last, but most important, the folks at Coca-Cola have done something that truly separates a good company from a great company: They’ve found a way to sell their product to those who normally wouldn’t buy it… and their doing so in droves.

So, while it’s still early on, early indications are the “Share a Coke” campaign is working and aside from the minor drawback of people constantly turning over display racks when searching for hard to find names, Coca-Cola’s appears to have hit another home-run and judging by the initial popularity I’ve seen, the momentum shows no signs of slowing.

So Cheer’s to you Coca-Cola, I may not be a soda drinker but you’ve definitely caught my attention.

Give it away now: Are guerrilla marketing giveaways effective?

What do a few memorable words from the popular 1991 hit single Give It Away by ageless rock wonders, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and guerrilla marketing handouts have in common you ask? A lot more than one might think.

A few things before I get into my article: (1) When it comes to clothing and apparel, I generally don’t wear merchandise with logos or branding on it, (2) I don’t like blatant product placement and (3) because I am a designer, I love a great design.

In the past, I’ve always been on the fence regarding how effective guerrilla marketing handouts are. Are they cool? When done correctly, hell yeah! Are they effective? Debatable…well at least I thought.

Fast-forward to a recent visit of to Navy Pier. I’ll be the first to admit I’ve collected more than my fair share of marketing knick-knacks. In doing so, I know there’s no better place to find one than in downtown Chicago. My latest target that day? A Brazilian style floppy hat from the folks at a technology company you may have heard of.

I approached the marketing rep and quickly discover just what I’d expected, they where FREE. He handed me a survey and began to educate soliciting the new product. As I scribbled through the 10 question survey, all I could think was “I can’t wait to own this hat”. Being a fellow marketer, it was hard to ignore the spiel (after all, the two of us hailed from the same universe (marketing and design) but I really just wanted the hat. Did the product interest me? No (After all I already owned the only computer I’ve ever needed: the MacBook Pro).

I walked away from the booth, threw on my goofy hat and suddenly the strangest thing happened; people all over the city were eating it up. The number one question on everyones mind? Where’d you get it? Without even realizing it I had become a walking billboard for the hats creator…

“Check out the Microsoft booth, I repeated more than a dozen times before realizing what I was doing”.

I finally caught myself, “They got me at my own game!” I told my girlfriend, also a designer.

After laughing off what had just happened, this got me thinking about some of the giveaways I’ve received in the past few months. Sure enough, I could remember each item and the name of almost every vendor that had handed me a clever one; the a plush ninja from Print Ninja, the matchbooks from Out of Print Clothing , GNC’s Burn Bag …the list goes on. I remember them all and every time someone asks me where I got them, I become that walking billboard again. These products are so effective, I’m given them yet another plug.

So I think we have our answer!

And….I’m Off! (and excited as you can see by all the exclamation points)

Well, after a few weeks of kicking around the idea, I’ve finally decided it’s time I get with 21st century and take the plunge; It’s time to start blogging! I’ve always been a designer and I’ve always been writer so what better platform than a blog to express them both simultaneously.

In the spirit of design, this blog will be simple and functional. I want to educate.

Well, that’s a bold statement…Educate who you ask?

For starters, ME!

I’ve been a designer for several years now and the single most important thing I’ve learned is every time you think you think you’ve got your finger on this field, somebody else is reinventing the wheel…and I want in! Feel free to share anything on here with me…It doesn’t matter if its digital or print related Leave no stone unturned and share, share, share.

And since it’s my blog, of course it’s my duty to educate as well

For those of you who know me personally, I’m a communicator…I love to share knowledge. It doesn’t matter the channel I’m always game! I’m hoping that by blending my experiences as a manager of print and design as well as those as a freelancer, I can create some enlightening posts here that can help people through their day to day in our field.

All this being said, I believe the direction of this blog will take care of itself. I’m sure there’ll be a few bumps and hiccups as the blog gets off the ground but with everyone’s help, I think something awesome can be created here. So sit back and enjoy the ride!